Social capital insights from healthy settings needs assessment in Malawi

Rippon, Sarah and Beattie, Tara K. and Lungu, Kingsley and Kumwenda, Save and Morse, Tracy (2018) Social capital insights from healthy settings needs assessment in Malawi. PLOS One, 13 (10). ISSN 1932-6203

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    Abstract

    Despite global health improvements, substantial challenges in social determinants of health and poverty remain in rural communities in low-income countries. Public health theorists suggest that communities with high social capital are less vulnerable to such challenges and more likely to participate in community development. This research examines levels of social capital amongst rural communities in southern Malawi through data gathered as part of a participatory needs assessment for a Healthy Settings project, and discusses the potential benefits of having access to such data before project implementation. Social capital data was collected during 108 focus group discussions in 18 communities (split by gender, age, status) by adapting an existing mixed methods measurement tool, the Schutte tool. Five indicators were measured: sense of belonging, friendship, reliance, ability to work together and influence. Mean results showed all 18 communities had medium-high levels of social capital. Means from each group in the 18 communities highlighted the lowest social capital among the youth groups and the highest with the leaders. A more detailed breakdown highlighted that all groups had a strong sense of belonging to the community, while youth and women had lower social capital levels in terms of influence over local decisions and ability to rely on other community members. Incorporating social capital tools into community health needs assessments in low-income settings provides a valuable overview of community dynamics before project implementation, and Monitoring & Evaluation indicators which allow changes in social capital to be measured at different stages of the project.